Tag Archives: resilience

PPBF – The Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.

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Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience

Opening:

It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.

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This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

My pick for today is not the tale of a refugee nor does it cast a spotlight on a place experiencing conflict. It does, however, shed light on the Spanish-language author equivalent to Shakespeare, and offer hope and insights to those experiencing personal and/or societal conflict or pain.  I hope you agree that it’s a Perfect Picture Book:

MiguelsBraveKnight_mainTitle: Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

Poems Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Raúl Colón

Publisher/date: Peachtree Publishers/October 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: imagination; poetry; historical fiction; hope; resilience

Opening:

Happiness

When I close my eyes,

I ride up high

on a horse the color of moonrise!

But then I open my eyes,

and all I see is Papá, selling

the last of the horses from his stable—

Brief Synopsis: Through free-verse poetry, the life and dreams of young Miguel Cervantes are explored, offering a clue into what inspired the writing of Don Quixote, the first modern novel.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide, including a Vocabulary Puzzle Game, Windmill drawing activity, and poetry prompt;
  • An Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Historical Note, Biographical Note, and “Don Quixote, a Cultural Icon” provide context;
  • Create your own windmill;
  • Young Cervantes was a dreamer. What do you imagine when you dream? Who are you and what do you do? Write a poem setting out these ideas (“When I dream…,” or “Sometimes I imagine…”, or, the prompt suggested in the Teacher’s Guide, “In my daydreams, I…”).

Why I Like this Book:

Miguel’s Brave Knight is a beautiful book – both the free verse poems exploring young Cervantes’ fears and dreams and the gorgeous water-colored pen and ink illustrations that accompany the text. While many children may not know firsthand the story of Don Quixote, I think they will be keen to learn more about this seminal book after reading Miguel’s Brave Knight.

In addition, by juxtaposing young Miguel’s family circumstances with his dreams and writing, I think Engle’s poems will speak to children who themselves are experiencing family or societal hardships firsthand. In “Hunger,” Engle writes, They even took our beds and plates./ Where will we sleep?/ How will we eat? Reading these words, I can’t help but picture children living in impoverished households with one or more caregiver incarcerated, those whose parents face deportation, and refugees. Thankfully, Engle also posits in “Comfort,” the spark of a story…/A tale about a brave knight/ who will ride out on/ a strong horse/ and right/ all the wrongs/ of this confusing/ world.

A Note about Craft:

Engle, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, wrote Miguel’s Brave Knight as a series of free verse poems, told from a first-person Point of View. I think this works well for a fictionalized biography (fiction, because Engle shares Cervantes’ thoughts and feelings), especially of an author.

In an Author’s Note, Engle shares that she visited the windmills of Spain as a teen with her family, grew up surrounded by the images of Don Quixote, and “wrote Miguel’s Brave Knight to show how the power of imagination can be a great source of comfort and hope in times of struggle and suffering.” What draws you to write or illustrate a story and what further themes can you pull from that story?

In Reading Picture Books with Children (Charlesbridge, 2015), Megan Dowd Lambert champions the whole book approach, and counsels that everything about a picture book can help tell the story. In Miguel’s Brave Knight, the endpapers are particularly relevant, and readers are treated to an imaginative surprise when they peek under the jacket cover.

Learn more about Margarita Engle and Raúl Colón. See my reviews of Engle’s All the Way to Havana and Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics.

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This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!